Portrait of Handel by Balthasar Denner

Why we should revel in the empty virtuosity of Handel's pasticcios


Before the jukebox musical, back when Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys and Viva Forever! were still dollar-shaped glints in an as-yet-unborn producer’s eye, there was the pasticcio opera. Literally a musical ‘pastry’ or ‘pie’, these brought together arias from different operas,… Read more

Left to right: Peter Hoare (Fatty), Anne Sofie von Otter (Leocadia Begbick), Willard White (Trinity Moses)

Royal Opera's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny review: far too well behaved


Brecht/Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny was premièred in 1930, Auden/Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in 1951. Twenty-one years separate them, but it seems, as one looks back, enormously more than that. Think of 1994 and now, no… Read more

Identity crisis: Rachele Gilmore as Alice

Alice in Wonderland at the Barbican reviewed: too much miaowing


Charles Lutwidge Dodgson loved little girls. He loved to tell them stories, he loved to feed them jam, he loved to set them puzzles, and he loved to take their photographs. On 25 March, 1863, he composed a list of… Read more

Julia Bullock and Noah Stewart in The Indian Queen Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

ENO's Indian Queen reviewed: Peter Sellars's bold new production needs editing


When is an opera not an opera? How much can you strip and peel away, or extend and graft on to the genre, before it simply ceases to be itself? These questions dominated a week in which directors turned vivisectors… Read more

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi Photo: Bill Cooper

Opera North's Gianni Schicchi and La vida breve reviewed: a flawless double helping of verismo


Is there a more beautiful aria than ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi? There are more overwhelming moments in opera, to be sure, but few arias can rival it for the way its beauty kicks you in the… Read more


La Donna del Lago, Metropolitan Opera, review: Colm Toibin on a night of masterful singing


La Donna del Lago, based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott, is one of the nine serious, dramatic operas that Rossini wrote for Teatro San Carlo in Naples between 1815 and 1822. At the time the opera was produced… Read more

Starry night: Iain Patterson as Sachs and Andrew Shore as Beckmesser in a triumphant ‘Mastersingers of Nuremberg’

Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO, review: ‘a triumph’


ENO’s new production of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is a triumph about which only the most niggling of reservations can be set. Every aspect — orchestral, vocal, production — works in harmony to effect one of the richest, most… Read more

The UK premiere of Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican Theatre in 2012. Photo: Lucie Jansch

Why we should say farewell to the ENO


It’s easy to forget what a mess of an art form opera once was. For its first 100 years it had no name, it had no fixed address, it didn’t really know who it was or what it was doing.… Read more

The Marriage of Figaro Photo: Clive Barda

An artistic crime is committed at the Royal Festival Hall


In one of the more peculiar concerts that I have been to at the Royal Festival Hall, Vladimir Jurowski conducted excerpts from Das Rheingold in the first half of the programme, and Rachmaninov’s little-known opera The Miserly Knight in the… Read more

Leave your brain at the door: David McVicar's Andrea Chenier at the Royal Opera House. All images: Bill Cooper/ROH

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera House, review: like a Carry On - but without the jokes


Who on earth could have predicted that a hoary old operatic melodrama set in revolutionary France would find resonance in the present where the pen as a weapon against bigotry and hypocrisy has suddenly achieved iconic status. But hold up,… Read more

Gyula Orendt as Orfeo and Mary Bevan as Euridice Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

Royal Opera’s Orfeo, Roundhouse: shouts its agenda so loudly the music struggles to be heard


What a week to stage an opera about art’s power to challenge institutional authority, oppression — even death itself. Orfeo’s weapon might be a lyre rather than a pen, but the metaphor is silhouetted clearly against the monochrome backdrop of… Read more

Un ballo in maschera

Royal Opera's Un ballo in maschera: limp, careless and scrappy


Whether by chance or bold design, the Royal Opera’s two Christmas shows were written at precisely the same moment, between 1857 and 1859, and both mark a high point of refinement in their respective traditions. Both Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde… Read more

Magnificent: Nina Stemme as Isolde and Stephen Gould as Tristan

Royal Opera’s Tristan und Isolde: an absurd production - but still a magnificent night


Any adequate performance of Tristan und Isolde, and the first night of the Royal Opera’s production was at least that, leaves you wondering what to do with the rest of your life, as Wagner both feared and hoped it would.… Read more

Gianni Schicchi Photo: Hana Zushi-Rhodes, Royal Academy of Music

Agents will be queuing up to sign this 26-year-old baritone from Sichuan


The Royal Academy of Music’s end-of-term opera can always be looked forward to because it never disappoints: the repertoire is enterprising, the musical performance is invariably on a high level, and the productions are almost always sane and unpretentious: qualities… Read more

French composer and musical theorist, Jean Philippe Rameau

Forget the Germans. It’s the French who made classical music what it is


The poor French. When we think of classical music, we always think of the Germans. It’s understandable. Instinctive. Ingrained. But unfair. We forget that most of the heavy lifting — most of the intrepid leaps forward in harmony, colour, rhythm… Read more

Too worthy? Peter Sellars’s staging of John Adams’s ‘Gospel’

ENO’s Gospel According to the Other Mary: great music weighed down by a worthy staging


Terrorism; East-West diplomacy; nuclear war: John Adams’s operas have poured music into the faultlines of 21st-century global politics, and the tremors have been significant. Simply staging The Death of Klinghoffer recently was enough to see the Met picketed on charges… Read more

Franco Fagioli: a controversial Idamante in ‘Idomeneo’ at the Royal Opera House

Royal Opera’s Idomeneo: get seats but make sure they’re facing away from the stage


Mozart’s first great opera, Idomeneo, is not often performed, and perhaps it’s better that way. It should be seen as a festival work, celebrating qualities that we rarely reflect on, but are of the utmost importance. In his fine essay… Read more

Mariinsky’s musical director Valery Gergiev Photo: V.Baranovsky

Mariinsky’s Boris Godunov - a revelation


Anyone who thinks opera singers and orchestral players are overworked should spare a thought for the Mariinsky Opera on its trek round England and Wales this week. After Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery in Cardiff on Sunday, the whole caravan… Read more

Anna Netrebko as Lady in Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’, Metropolitan Opera

Met Opera Live's Macbeth: Netrebko's singing stirred almost as much as her décolletage


This season of live Met relays got off to a most impressive start, with an electrifying account of Verdi’s tenth opera and first really great, though uneven piece, Macbetto (as I think it should be called; that’s what the central… Read more

Miles (Thomas Delgado-Little) and Flora (Louise Moseley) in Glyndebourne's creepy Turn of the Screw. © Tristram Kenton

Glyndebourne’s Turn of the Screw: horrors of the most innocent and creepy kind


We all know that ‘They fuck you up your mum and dad’, but nowhere is this more reliably (and violently) true than in the opera house. If you have the misfortune to be born into an operatic family you can… Read more

Hye-Youn Lee as Violetta in ‘La traviata’

Opera North's Coronation of Poppea: a premium-rate sex-line of an opera


Virtue, hide thyself! The Coronation of Poppea opens with a warning and closes with a love duet for a concubine and a psychopath, their union celebrated in sinuous melismas over a blameless passacaglia. First performed in 1643, Monteverdi’s final opera… Read more

Photo: ENO/Robert Workman

ENO’s The Girl of the Golden West is irresistibly seductive


Puccini’s La fanciulla del West is, one suspects, one of those works that modern audiences struggle to keep a straight face through. The hero, for a start, decides to call himself Dick Johnson. The piece’s Wild West trappings, long since… Read more

Alice Coote and Sarah Tynan in ‘Xerxes’ at ENO

Royal Opera's Rigoletto: your disbelief may wobble but your excitement won't


One of the greatest tests of how an opera house is functioning is the quality of its revivals. Both the Royal Opera and the English National Opera score highly in that respect. You can go to the Met, to Munich,… Read more

Quiet nobility: David Kempster as William Tell

Robo-Tell hits Welsh National Opera


Is there a fundamental, insuperable problem with staging Rossini’s Guillaume Tell on a budget, without the resources to conjure up the sense of scale that was part of grand opéra’s appeal and raison d’être? Take away the special effects, whip… Read more

Eloquent: Allan Clayton as Cassio in Otello

Is Anna Nicole’s absurd life worth our while? Not as much as Otello’s


So how did London’s two big opera companies launch their new seasons last week? Not perhaps in the way you might expect. Decked with pink balloons and the acrid smell of popcorn, the Royal Opera House waved the garish contemporary… Read more

Lucia di Lammermoor, Winslow Hall Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Michael Tanner: Why I prefer Donizetti to Strauss


Three operas this week, each of them named after its (anti-)heroine: one of the heroines (the most sympathetic) murders her husband, one of them spends her time successfully plotting the deaths of her mother and stepfather, one insists on the… Read more

Mariinsky's Les Troyens

Mariinsky’s Les Troyens — a bad night for Berlioz and Edinburgh


I wonder whether grand opéra really takes war as seriously as this year’s Edinburgh Festival wanted it to. These vast works, written to exploit and reflect the power, resources and tastes of mid-19th-century Paris, tended to favour history and its… Read more

The Immortal Hour

The small rewards of small-scale opera


Perhaps I should come clean straightaway and admit that, despite the fact that OperaUpClose is about to celebrate its fifth birthday, I’d never been to see one of its shows before last week. This has not been a conscious decision;… Read more